Smoking Toddler Update: Lots of Kids Under Age 10 Smoke in Indonesia

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Lots of kids under age 10 smoke in Indonesia.

Surely you remember the smoking toddler, Aldi Rizal, the Indonesian 2-year-old who was trying to quit his two-pack-a-day habit this time last year.  He was released from intensive rehab last November and is now living like a normal boy.  But, it turns out, Rizal is far from the only Indonesian pre-schooler who likes to light up.  According to ABC News, “a million children in Indonesia under the age of 16 smoke.”  More importantly, “one third of Indonesian children try smoking before the age of 10.”

A 2-year-old named Chairul is fed cigarettes by his own grandfather, who says he allows Chairul to smoke “because it tastes good, like bread with chocolate.”  When asked if he was worried about the boy’s health, the grandfather replied, “If the boy doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t feel good. It’s all right, as long as he drinks enough coffee with his cigarettes.”

Wow.  It’s true, though.  Coffee and cigarettes go together hand in hand, like flowers and funerals.

It has been said before, but many blame big tobacco in the US for Indonesia’s smoking children.  ABC writes, “unable to market freely at home, big tobacco has increasingly turned overseas, where they are using the very tactics to reach young people that have long been banned in America.”  ABC obtained internal documents from Philip Morris International that made it clear in 2005 the corporation was willing to target young smokers.  According to one marketing document, cigarette brand A-Mild “does not just understand the spirit of the new generation of Indonesians, but it is also their spirit / their voice!”  Haha – yeah.  Tell that to these kids after their laryngectomies.

ABC News tried to interview reps from PMI, but they declined, instead sending an email that reads, “We support the strict regulation of tobacco products.  In Indonesia we have repeatedly urged the government to introduce tobacco regulation that bans sales to minors, restricts advertising and sponsorship and mandates stronger health warning requirements.”  For its part, “Anti-tobacco legislation has died in parliament, tied up by red tape, and, critics say, tobacco industry influence.”

Cigarettes are so powerful and so readily available in Indonesia, Rizal threatens his mother with their use.  “If I don’t buy him toys, he threatens to start smoking again,” his mother says.  Cigarettes are for sale outside of schools, sold individually for a dime.

If you need to see Indonesian children smoking with your own eyes to believe this problem is real, watch this 20/20 special report.  Then go outside and take a deep breath.

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